Joshua Kimmich sounded empty speaking to reporters after Germany's second successive group-stage exit at a World Cup. The Bayern Munich midfielder, with tears in his eyes, called it "the worst day of his career."
"It's not easy for me to cope," Kimmich said afterward. "Being associated with failure is not something you want to stand for… We're going home and I'm worried about falling into limbo."
These are worrying words for German football. The man who arrived in 2016 knowing Germany as a team that at worst made the semifinals, has now become one of the leaders of a team that only knows disappointment at major tournaments.
"When I look at the chances we didn’t take, it’s not just unlucky; there’s also a lot of inability," Kimmich said. "We conceded very easy goals. The opponent doesn’t need to invest a lot to score goals against us — the second goals in the first and third games are symbolic of that."
Unlucky and lost
There is an element of poor luck to Germany's exit. Of all teams in the group stages at the 2022 World Cup, Germany had the most shots (68), hit the woodwork the most times (5) and had the highest xG (10.1) — and yet they're going home.
Jamal Musiala, perhaps Germany's best player in an otherwise disappointing tournament, even said: "This whole tournament, I couldn't buy a goal. I don't know what was wrong with my shooting."
But with no clean sheets at a tournament since 2016 and evident and familiar deficiencies in certain positions, this is also a team in turmoil.
"We're going home after two decent performances," Thomas Müller admitted afterwards. "We messed up in the first game, and even there the performance and the commitment wasn't bad, but I won't deny that we gifted that opening game.
"We are not a perfect team. Our weaknesses are on show more often, there's no talking around it… It's no secret, we didn't travel here as favorites and there are reasons for that. In the last few years at tournaments we haven't met expectations because as a team we don't have specialists."
Indeed, Germany's problems at fullback and in attack were exposed in Qatar. Leon Goretzka's halftime injury vs. Costa Rica forced Hansi Flick's hand, but it still meant that in three games four different players played in the right back position at one point or another. Thomas Müller, who spent most of the tournament leading Germany's line, finished the tournament with three shots, none of which were on target. Niclas Füllkrug, Germany's only classic No. 9 forward, scored twice off the bench.
"We've been talking about No.9s and strong fullbacks for years. We need to get back to basics in development," Hansi Flick admitted afterward. "We were not efficient at this tournament and that's why we're out."
Questions will be asked of Flick and team manager Oliver Bierhoff, who has been involved with the team since 2004. Flick's personnel choices came under criticism, as did the decision for Germany not to bring a player to the press conference ahead of the Spain game because the journey was too long for a player ahead of such a big match.
Indeed, the decision to be based 110 kilometers (68.4 miles) north of Doha falls on Bierhoff's shoulders. That, combined with a training camp in Oman makes for less than ideal preparation, something Joshua Kimmich admitted.
"In preparation for the World Cup, it was difficult for us to get into a rhythm and be tuned in as a group because we often didn’t have everyone available. That’s why I had hoped we could grow during the tournament," Kimmich said.
That growth may well have been affected by the One Love armband situation, with reports that there was a split in the team about how to handle the situation. Bierhoff admitted to German public broadcaster ARD after the Costa Rica match that it could have been handled better.
Speaking to reporters at the airport before the team's departure, German FA (DFB) President Bernd Neuendorf spoke of "bitter disappointment" and "exceptional pain" at exiting the tournament so early.
He added that he will meet with Hansi Flick, Oliver Bierhoff and Hans-Joachim Watzke, a member of the DFB board, next week to discuss the reality of the situation and the development of German football. Neuendorf said he expects the sporting leadership, Flick and Bierhoff, to deliver an analysis of the situation, plans for the future, specifically the Euros in Germany in two years' time, as well as a look at the development of the national team and German football since the World Cup in 2018. A clear statement in support of Flick or Bierhoff was not given.
In the meantime, Germany's team flies home with many curious as to what will come next. Will a raft of the old generation retire? What will Germany do to be more competitive as European Championship host in 2024?
One thing's for sure: It's unlikely the team will be watching the rest of the World Cup from the sofa.
"It's like scratching a wound. You know you could be out there on the field. I don't think I'd be doing myself any favors if I watched the games," Kimmich said. "I'll know what's going on, you can't escape it, but I don't think I'll watch a lot of games."
Edited by: Chuck Penfold